My London Food Diary

I have already documented what I consumed in Paris for Pepper, and now it’s time to show London some love.

Burger and Lobster – Knightsbridge (multiple branches)
As the name of the restaurant suggests, Burger and Lobster serves only two things. The lobster, however, they serve either whole or in a lobster roll. I chose the latter partly because my first encounter with it went so well, and partly because I didn’t want to deal with the mess of a full lobster. DSC00084 For 20 GBP, you get the lobster roll, fries, a small salad, and bottomless lemon butter sauce. The lobster roll seems to be a cross between a Connecticut and a Maine roll. There’s mayo, of course, but there’s also a lot of buttery and lemony flavor. I love Maine-style lobster rolls, so I would’ve preferred a touch more mayonnaise. Or, judging from how good the lemon butter sauce was, going full-on Connecticut might’ve been a good idea, too. But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this. The lobster meat was delicious, sweet, and tender. The brioche “bun”, generously buttered, was particularly good. Even the side salad of peppery arugula and onions helped balance everything out. It’s a little pricey, but it was worth two visits from me. The Knightsbridge branch doesn’t accept reservations, but their other branches do so try to get one if you can. Or you might end up waiting a very long time.

Shake Shack
Shake Shack is obviously not original to London, but I could not, could not miss an opportunity to eat at the Shack and finally get to try the famous Shack Stack. Untitled I was worried the breaded mushroom would be overpower the beef patty, but it didn’t. The mushroom patty was done perfectly, the crust crispy and not greasy at all. I liked how the crunch contrasted with all the other textures in the burger. There were some consistency issues, however. The beef from my Stack from my second visit was a little bland and did get lost in everything that was going on. The other two times, however, I was quite satisfied with my burger. I finally also had one of Shake Shack’s famed milkshakes. I ordered a strawberry milkshake and paid a little extra to get it malted. It was the thickest, creamiest milkshake I have ever had but it was too sweet and too rich for my taste.

Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant – Gerrard Street (multiple branches, reservations a must)
One of the disadvantages of traveling and eating alone is that you don’t get to try  a lot of what a restaurant has to offer. Hence, my friends and I took advantage of the time we had together to eat family style at Four Seasons in Chinatown.

DSC00377 We took full advantage of the opportunity, as you can see. The highlight of the meal was the roast duck. I’m no expert on the fowl, but my friend who sees Donald Duck and thinks “yum!” thinks very highly of Four Seasons’. Everything was good, though, and it was a little embarrassing of how little was left of the food above after the four of us (yes, there were only four of us) were done eating.

The Breakfast Club – Soho (multiple branches)
My first try at eating at The Breakfast Club’s Soho branch was a failure. The line was too long and I was too hungry to wait. There was still a line on my second attempt, but it was a much more manageable one, and within twenty minutes, I was in. Untitled The line is not because the food is life-changingly good. There’s a wait to get in because the menu of breakfast classics is well done, cheap, and served in generous portions. There was nothing groundbreaking about my plate of French toast with bacon and bananas. It tasted exactly as I expected it to taste, and sometimes, that’s all you need.

The Riding House Cafe
Another lovely spot for breakfast in Soho was The Riding House Cafe. I chose their buttermilk pancakes mainly because it came with vanilla clotted cream. I was a little wary when it was served to me because the top of the pancakes looked tough, reminding me of English muffins. Untitled One slice in, however, and all my fears were allayed. The pancakes were tender, light, and fluffy despite their crusty-looking exteriors. The berry compote was wonderfully lumpy and refreshingly tart, it cut through the richness of the clotted cream beautifully. The English sausages I ordered on the side for some saltiness in my meal were also excellent, garlicky and herb-y.

The Diner
My friend and I ended up at Camden after leaving that long Breakfast Club line. I was still in the mood for breakfast food, so I suggested The Diner when we passed it. I vaguely remember reading about it while researching brunch spots in London. Untitled I ordered the Mexican Breakfast Pan loaded with chorizo, sauteed potatoes, baked eggs, salsa, beans, guacamole, jalapenos, and cheese. It was a lot, but I thoroughly enjoyed this. There was so much going on, that each mouthful was different, and that’s a good thing. My favorite part of the plate was the salsa and the jalapenos, since they brightened everything else on the plate. They contrasted the creaminess of the guac, the richness of the eggs, and the starchiness of the potatoes. I maybe would’ve loved a squeeze of lime or lemon juice over the entire thing just for the citrus-y kick, but then I say that about a lot of things. The Diner is also known for their milkshakes. While I didn’t have one, my friend did. The staff kindly customized a peanut butter-hazelnut one for her and the sounds she made while slurping it were… well, let’s just say I knew it was amazing, even without tasting it.

Duck and Waffle (reservations a must)
I guessed Duck and Waffle was a popular restaurant even before my friend and I called for a reservation. Our 10:30pm slot for dinner confirmed that. One of the reasons for its popularity is the fact that it is on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower, offering spectacular views of Central London. Untitled We were seated right across from The Gherkin, with a view of the Thames and Tower Bridge. While the views took my breath away, I started to worry if that was all the restaurant was about. That Duck and Waffle was popular and a tad pricey mainly because of its location and its touristic value. Hence, I was a little wary digging into my plate of, naturally, Duck and Waffle. It was half a waffle, duck leg confit, a fried duck egg, and mustard maple syrup. The waffle was nothing remarkable, not that I expected the world from a waffle. The star of dish was the confit, crispy, juicy, savory. With the runny yolk, some waffle and the sweet syrup, it made for quite a bite. I’d come back for this, even if the restaurant was in the basement of the building.

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My apologies for the poor shot, but the lighting was very dim.

There were several other places and things that I tried that didn’t make it here mostly because I didn’t get to photograph them (my excellent takeaway burger from Five Guys comes to mind). There were some things that weren’t bad at all, but weren’t really worth writing home about. But overall, my experience with London food was great, and there really is no reason everyone’s shouldn’t be. If you’re going to London, forget about what’s been said about how bad the food there is, do your research, go beyond fish and chips, and London will surprise you.

 

Burger and Lobster – Knightsbridge
Fifth Floor Harvey Nichols,

109 – 125 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7RJ

Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant
12 Gerrard St, London W1D 5PR

Shake Shack
24, Market Building, The Piazza,

Covent Garden, London WC2E 8RD

The Breakfast Club – Soho
33 D’Arblay St, London W1F 8EU

The Riding House Cafe
43-51 Great Titchfield St, London W1W 7PQ

The Diner
2 Jamestown Road, London NW1 7BY

Duck & Waffle
Heron Tower 110 Bishopgate, London EC2N 4AY

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Salmon Baked in Foil and Sauteed Spinach

One of the things I was excited about during my three month stay in the UK was shopping in the supermarkets. I looked forward to the array of produce and ingredients I did not have access to in Manila, at least not at reasonable prices.

As excited as I was to shop and cook, though, I had to be more thoughtful about what I chose to make at home. In the Philippines, I had at least five other people to feed, so baking pans full of baked pasta or chicken thighs were not an issue. But the same approach would not work for me in England. It’s not possible to cook just half a lasagne without having to either buy a brand new baking dish, risk a half-open box of pasta going bad, or eat the same thing for a week straight. Hence, I had to look for recipes that were adaptable and practical to cook for just me and my roommate.

I zeroed in on salmon recipes, as fillets of Scottish salmon were available in convenient pairs at Waitrose and Tesco. Maybe because I’ve seen them cooked that way in some cooking show, I Googled “salmon baked in foil” and the first search result was this recipe by Giada de Laurentiis.

The flavors were right up my alley so I decided to give it a go. I’ve never cooked salmon before this, so I was a little nervous, but I figured things couldn’t go that bad with tomatoes, lemon, thyme and oregano.

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I was right. The result was tender, moist, flaky salmon infused with all the flavor from the herbs and lemon. Despite zero marinating time and a short bake in the oven, the fish is quite flavorful. Another plus is that it takes only about 45 minutes to make this dish from start to finish.

To accompany this dish I chose  Garlic Sauteed Spinach from Ina Garten because the the Food Network site said it only took 10 minutes to make. It’s as straightforward as it sounds, it’s spinach sauteed with a lot of garlic, but with the special Ina Garten touch: butter. As much as I adore butter, I wasn’t too sure about how well it would go with spinach, of all things. But I never should have doubted Ina. I now make amends for my lack of faith by adding more butter than the recipe calls for.

 

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I make the spinach about fifteen minutes into the cooking of the salmon, so that they are both done at the same time. If the salmon is done before you’re finished making the spinach, don’t sweat it, just take the pan with the foil parcels out of the oven, the fish will stay warm as long as you don’t open the packages. I’d rather have the fish waiting for the spinach than the other way around, because the veg is best when served immediately.

But both are so easy to make, though, you’ll probably work out the timing to have them done at the same time by your second or third go at them. The other wonderful thing about these dishes is that making them for two or six doesn’t really result in that much more work and time, you’ll just have to slice a bit more tomato and garlic.

These two recipes make for a very quick, easy, and, lovely meal (I would’ve said “healthy” too, but I think the amount of butter I top my spinach with prevents me from saying that). I was surprised at how something that took so little time and effort could yield such elegant results.

Now if only finding fresh, affordable salmon in Manila was just as easy and quick.

Of Tea and Scones

I have complained about the English weather and now, I am writing about tea. Obviously, my time in England has made an impression on me.

I used to not like tea. I wrinkled my nose at it and called it “flavored water.” Then I had a cream tea at the quaint  Copper Kettle Tea Rooms in Bamburgh, and my opinions on scones and tea have been changed forever.

First, on cream teas. They are not, as I first thought, tea poured with cream instead of milk (although that sounds like that could be delicious). A cream tea is a pot of tea served with one or two scones, cream (preferably clotted cream) and jam. While a full afternoon tea spread is quite lovely for a special occasion, I prefer cream teas, especially when it comes with an excellent scone.

And an excellent scone… well. I used to think that the ones I used to get at the poorly named chain French Baker were quite good, especially the chocolate chip one. They were hefty and doughy, and I actually liked that about them. But as I found out in the UK, those were not scones, not in the true definition of the word. Because proper scones are anything but hefty and doughy.

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The Copper Kettle Tearooms, Bamburgh, Northumberland

They are light, moist, and crumbly. They break apart at the slightest tug of your fingers, but they stand up to the light pressure of cream and jam spreading. And the ones from The Copper Kettle Tearooms were rounds of tender, buttery perfection that I will measure all scones against.

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Afternoon tea from Jesmond Dene House, Newcastle

The scones from afternoon tea at Jesmond Dene House were not up to the Copper Kettle’s standards, but the rest of their afternoon tea spread was quite nice. I particularly loved the traditional sandwiches: egg and cress, roast beef with rocket and horseradish, salmon and cucumber, and cheese and pickled apple. Afternoon tea is not something I would do on a regular basis because it is quite indulgent, but it is quite a lovely experience. I see why it’s such a popular thing to do, especially between groups of girlfriends. It’s bonding and chatting over dainty food and (typically bottomless) drink, in picturesque, refined settings. What’s not to love?

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Cavendish Hotel, Baslow

But if I’m being honest, I have the tea to have the scones to have the clotted cream and jam (because clotted cream is awesome and it deserves its own post). But that’s not to say that I haven’t changed my mind about tea, because I have (I only love clotted cream more). As it turns out, I only needed a healthy pour of milk and some sugar to appreciate tea as more than “flavored water.” To my tastebuds, at least, the flavors of tea come to the fore with the creaminess of the milk, and, to my surprise, I’ve come to love those flavors.

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My surprisingly excellent DIY cream tea at the Newcastle International Airport lounge

So even if I don’t have rich, thick, sweet clotted cream or the soft, buttery scones to spread it on, I’ll have tea anyway.

Overnight Oats

Almost every other health/wellness/weight loss article in the history of the internet keeps emphasizing how important the first meal of the day is. I’ve been paying no heed to those article and have been skipping breakfast for years. Not good, I know, but I’ve always had valid (or so I say) excuses: first it was “I leave the house too early” (5am), then it became “I wake up too late and too close to lunch” (10am), and on weekends, it’s “my brothers ate all the bacon/longganisa/tapa/tocino.”

I’ve been trying to change my delinquent ways and have made an effort to have healthy breakfasts as much as I can. And that’s where overnight oats come in.

My health-freak friend J introduced them to me. The genius of it is that you’re making your breakfast while you sleep. Before hitting the sack, you soak some oats in milk and yogurt. In the morning, you have a hearty, healthy and delicious breakfast waiting for you.

Overnight Oats basic recipe (if you can even call it that)

1/3 cup rolled/old fashioned oats (not instant)
1/3 cup fresh milk
1/4 cup Greek yogurt (regular works, too)

  1. Mix all ingredients together
  2. Add any flavorings and toppings, if preferred. Dried fruit is good to include in the soak to rehydrate them, and to serve as a natural sweetener for the oats. To infuse the oats with their flavor, spices like cinnamon or nutmeg should be added prior to the soak as well.
  3. Cover and refrigerate
  4. Have a good night’s sleep

The other great thing about this is that sky’s the limit for your flavor options. You can pretty much add anything you fancy to the oats: fruits, nuts, jams, chocolate chips, peanut butter, whatever. So even if you are having oats everyday, you’re not necessarily stuck with the same breakfast seven days a week. Just make sure that you don’t negate the oats’ health benefits by going overboard with the toppings.

I like this method of making oats versus instant oats cooked in the microwave. With rolled oats, you get less of a mushy texture: it actually still feels like oats in your mouth. The yogurt and the milk also results in a creamier mixture, instead of the pasty mess of microwaved oats.

Below are some of my favorite flavor combinations for overnight oats:

  • Dried strawberries and blueberries, honey, cinnamon
  • Almond butter, almonds, pinch of brown sugar

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  • Mangoes, candied walnuts, pinch of brown sugar
  • Almond butter, bananas, maple syrup

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  • Peanut butter
  • Cookie butter, candied walnuts, cinnamon

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It’s a testament to how good these oats are (or to how pathetic my life is) that I actually look forward to breakfast in the morning if I made this the night before. I also feel better about my day knowing that I started it right with a healthy meal, instead of leaving for work with an empty stomach and attacking the first carb that I come across at the office. And, when it comes down to it, these oats are just delicious.

So really, there’s no excuse for me to be skipping breakfast anymore (except for maybe my yogurt going bad) when it’s this easy and this good. Especially when I can have those addictive candied walnuts with it.

David Lebovitz’s Lemon Yogurt Cake

Making David Lebovitz’s Lemon Yogurt Cake was a no-brainer for me. I love lemon. The recipe looked very easy. So I made the cake.

This is the easiest, most low maintenance cake I have ever made. The batter is mixed by hand (no mixer required!), and you don’t need to worry about keeping things even and pretty with the glaze. You don’t even have to refrigerate it! It’s almost criminal how something so easy could be so delicious.

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While I am usually very strict about following recipes to a T when making them for the first time, I did make some minor changes to David’s original recipe. Because whole milk yogurt wasn’t available at Rizal Dairy Farms, I used low fat yogurt, with David’s express approval, of course. I also tweaked the glaze a little bit because I only had one cup of powdered sugar left. I didn’t reduce the lemon juice in proportion to the reduction in sugar, so my final glaze was 1 cup of powdered sugar and 2 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice (versus the proportional 2). I also nixed the apricot-cherry compote because, I don’t even know where to find fresh apricots in Manila. Even if I did, I don’t want to spend more than the cost of the actual cake on apricots and cherries.

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If my miserliness was detrimental to my final product, I really couldn’t tell. Compote or not, low-fat yogurt and all, the cake was wonderful. The cake itself  was very moist and soft. The crumb was on the heavier side but without being too dense. David hit the sweet spot for the strength of the lemon flavor: enough to both please the citrus-mad (like myself) and not turn off (and possibly convert) those who are not a fan of it.

My tweaked glaze was a bright, more pronounced burst of lemon, and I loved it against the more subdued flavor of the cake. But even if you don’t like your citrus as strongly as I do (I do use one calamansi per siomai), do consider making the glaze as directed as the flavor will mellow out over one or two days as the glaze seeps into the cake.

The one downside to this cake (if you could actually call it a downside) is that you might be asked to make it more than once in a 7-day period, like I was. I made one on Monday, and had to make one again on Sunday, as the people who’ve gotten to try it (and some who’ve only heard of how good it was) kept asking about when I was making it again. And really, with something as easy and good as this, I really had no choice but to oblige.

From the Milk Bar cookbook: Corn Cookies

I bought three cookies from Milk Bar on my lone stop to the bakery. I ate the Compost and the Cornflake Chocolate Chip Marshmallow cookies while still in NYC, the Corn Cookie made it back home with me to Manila. I still remember the taste of it, like a flattened Kenny Roger’s corn muffin in cookie form. I also remember my disappointment when I saw the recipe for it in the Milk Bar cookbook. It required freeze dried corn powder, something that is not available commercially in Manila.

When I found out my friend P was going to NYC, I took the chance and asked her to buy some of the corn powder for me. She delivered and came back with three bottles of my baking holy grail:

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Naturally, I made the corn cookies right away.

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My first batch were fine, but not great. They did corn-y enough, and they dried out too quickly. I think it may have been because I only used fine cornmeal, instead of cornflour (which is super fine cornmeal). I also didn’t pack in the corn powder when I measured it and it’s apparently very prone to fluffing up.

I took a different approach for my second attempt. I got a scale for my birthday (finally! Yay!), so I weighed my ingredients instead of measuring by volume. I also nixed the cornmeal and used Christina Tosi’s recommended substitution: a mixture of flour and more corn powder. The result was a significantly cornier cookie and one that didn’t become a coarse, dry mess a day after baking. It was definitely a lot closer to the one I so carefully hand carried home from NYC.

I still need to tweak some things a bit to try an get my version as moist as the original, which was closer to a Chips Ahoy! Chewy cookie in texture. If I never get to match that, though, I wouldn’t be too disappointed. Judging from how quickly my second batch was consumed, the current version is close enough.

PS: P, if you’re reading this, I still owe you cookies as a thank you for getting me the powder! 🙂

Dorie Greenspan’s Low and Lush Chocolate Cheesecake

Out of four siblings, three of us have birthdays in July, so that means a lot of baking for me during the month, even if I don’t make my own birthday cake.

Earlier this month, I made Dorie Greenspan’s Devil’s Food White Out Cake for my brother, a cake I’ve made before with my friend J.  Despite a fiasco involving a faulty candy thermometer and burnt sugar and some uneven slicing on my part, the cake turned out great, even if the frosting wasn’t as white as it should be.

This week was my sister’s turn, and she chose Dorie’s Low and Lush Chocolate Cheesecake as her birthday cake.  In her introduction to this recipe, Dorie said this was “push-button easy to make” and as far as cheesecakes go, it is. Surprisingly enough, this cheesecake doesn’t cook in a water bath (i.e. no risk of scalding yourself with hot water) and is also baked relatively quickly. My all-time favorite cheesecake takes two and a half hours in the oven (one and half with it on, another hour with it off with the door cracked open), whereas this baked in 40 minutes.

All the mixing is done with a food processor, which means everything comes together very quickly, which in turn means less air is incorporated in the batter.  The result is a denser and silkier cheesecake.

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I used 54% chocolate and, by mistake, 1/3 cup of sugar instead of the 1/2 indicated in the recipe. Not that my error was noticed by anyone. The cheesecake was delicious, with the subtle saltiness of the cream cheese still shining through the chocolate.

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The crust was also quite nice. The punch of cinnamon gives another dimension of flavor to the graham crust and also complements the richness of the chocolate filling.

Overall, this is another wonderful, delicious, and comparatively easy recipe from Dorie Greenspan. And really, I shouldn’t be surprised anymore that something that I made from her cookbook, Baking: From My Home to Yours is now a family favorite in the making.